Comedy movie directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
How did Popeye the Sailor become strong to the finish? Where did he come from, and what was his family like? This charming 1980 film musically explores Popeye's origins, and the quirky town of Sweet Haven with it's criminally pinioned populace. From the moment Popeye discreetly rides an ebbing storm into this odd port, we know his life will never be the same again.
Street toughs and the local crime-boss, The Commodore, rule the town, and the only place around willing to make room for a stranger is a boarding house run by the Oyl family. Bluto, the Commodore's right hand man, is determined to have Olive Oyl for his sweetie; lock, stock, and barrel... and Olive? Who could resist a guy who's so.... large?
Directed by Robert Altman, the screenplay was written by Jules Feiffer, and inspired by the works of E. C. Segar, creator of the one-eyed comic book hero (1894-1938). Originally, Dustin Hoffman was planned as Popeye. Both the divinely funny Lily Tomlin, and the fabulous Gilda Radner were tapped for Olive before the cast was finalized. Hoffman had some issue with Feiffer writing the script, and we were to loose the much beloved Radner less than a decade later to cancer. Personally, as much as enjoy both Tomlin and Radner, I can't really imagine anyone other than Robin Williams and Shelley Duval as Popeye and Olive Oyl.
"Children! They cry at you when they're young, they yell at you when they're older, they borrows from you when they's middle-aged and they leave you alone to die. Without even paying you back!" ~Poopdeck Pappy
This joint production between Paramount and Disney displays a lot of talents. Harry Nillson wrote all the original songs. There is plenty to enjoy for those who are fond of musicals. The lullaby duet between Olive and Popeye, is very expressive of their characters and sweet in it's simplicity. While Robin Williams had to re-dub much of his muttered dialog in his film debut, he unfailingly presents us with a very clear and accurate depiction of a much beloved cartoon characters, and even in his singing he never breaks with character.
Songs like "What Am I?" "It's Not Easy Being Me", "He's Large", "I'm Mean" and Olive's romantic solo "He Needs Me" help the characters express themselves in a wholly unique way that seems utterly natural. Olive's dancing as she sings "He Needs Me" makes you feel as if life itself breathed some color into a simple cartoon character and lifted her right off the screen.
Ray Walston, best know for his work as Uncle Martin in tv's My Favorite Martian, was the perfect choice as Poopdeck Pappy, Popeye's mysterious father figure. Swee'pea became a combination of the original character along with Jeep, Popeye's exotic and magical pet. The child chosen to play the clairvoyant and irrepressible Swee'pea was actually played by Altman's grandson, and the child nearly stole every scene he was in out from under the other actors! Many of the extras playing citizens of Sweet Haven were recruited from European circuses, and their grasp of physical expression and comedic timing adds greatly to the film.
"If I was gonna be Swee'Pea's mother, I should've at least let Olive be his father. Or viska versa. I ain't man enough to be no mother." ~ Popeye
Perhaps the most alarming question raised by this light-hearted film is what would happen if Popeye refused to eat spinach? In fact, in the original strip Popeye only used the added strength he gained by eating spinach once. It wasn't until he was being promoted as an animated character that this trait was exploited to make him a compelling role model for kids. In Sweet Haven, Popeye actually overcomes his childhood aversion to this healthy veg and learns to not only enjoy it, but appreciate the life-saving strength it gives him in the face of his enemies.
When all is said and done, this delightful family film actually paved the way for the many many films made since that were also based on comic book characters. It was horribly panned by critics at the time, and I could never understand why! I remember thinking, "If they're smart, someone will follow their example because there are some great films waiting to be made from comic books!"
This flash of insight from 20 years ago has become a reality as the film industry continues to explore this genre. Leads are drawn with bold lines and filled in with living color as a vivid cast of unique characters supports their story. Nostalgic, entertaining and light, Popeye was well ahead of it's time and continues to delight audiences.
"Come in before you catch your death of mud!" ~ Nana Oyl
Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12
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